Town halls to seize empty shops to put them back to use, under Labour plans to revive high streets

Town halls would be able to seize empty shops and bring them back into use, under Labour plans to revive decaying high streets.

The party will accuse the government of overseeing “a decade of decline” that has weakened the economy and society – vowing to give local councils beefed-up powers to act.

Under changes to come into force in August, restaurants, banks, gyms, creches and offices will also be fast-tracked for residential use.

That policy will see high streets “sold off to the highest bidder for poor quality housing without planning permission”, the shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds will allege.

Vowing to fight back instead, she will say in a set piece speech: “Britain’s high streets are at the heart of local communities

“It is not just a string of shops and post offices, it’s a place that people want to have pride in. The high street goes to the heart of Labour’s vision to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.”

Labour believes a new “empty shops order” can enable councils to seize the initiative and ensure premises are used either for shopping, small businesses or “other enterprises”.

The idea was put forward a decade ago by Mary Portas, the broadcaster appointed by David Cameron to carry out a high streets’ review, but never enacted.

Ms Dodds will propose that town halls would first work with the owner of an empty shop, to restore it to use – but, if that fails, take it over and carry out any necessary works.

Councils would be permitted to charge rent and, after recouping the cost of carrying out any improvements, that rent would then pass to the property owner.

Last summer, the prime minister sparked a row by announcing that redundant buildings would be demolished and rebuilt without a normal planning application.

Pubs, libraries and village shops “essential to the lifeblood of communities” would be protected – but the move was condemned by campaigners who protested it was already far too easy to build poor quality homes.

Speaking in London, Ms Dodds will say: “The Conservatives have presided over a decade of decline in Britain’s high streets that has left our economy insecure and the foundations of our society weakened.

“Labour’s plan would help secure the future of the high street. It would give local communities a proper stake in their town centres, support new businesses to open up on our high streets and help rebuild our economy post-pandemic.”